Finally - hoops season. Now, I won't say all is right in the world since as Pitt fans, we've gotten accustomed to focusing on how the team does in March, not November. But still a great feeling to get basketball season underway - especially since the football program is having a lackluster season.
To help kick things off, we've got a Q&A with Matt over at Unranked America East - SB Nation's new America East conference basketball blog. Be sure to check out their site this season.
Cardiac Hill: First off, welcome to the SB Nation family. Give us an idea of what your site is like and what you focus on.
Unranked AE: Many thanks for the kind welcome. We have an unhealthy devotion to what is basically the nonathletic, younger cousin of the Big East -- but with a great personality (actually looked up "Little East" as a potential title, but that actually exists as a sport conference -- some backwoods DII or III league in the northeast). However, the league is never short on heart (and we're actually having a bit of a talent renaissance at the moment). The beauty of mid-majors is that there's more than a pipe-dream of a satisfying finish to the season. Admission to the Big Dance on its own is such a sweet experience in the America East -- I doubt a Pitt fan has ever felt as happy during the final game of the season as I did when Albany was up by 10 on UConn in '06 as a 16 seed.
How will Albany deal with the loss of Tim Ambrose, arguably the team's best player, to graduation?
No argument whatsoever that Tim Ambrose was the team's best player. Ambrose started the year with a vote of no confidence from fans and coaches (he started the season coming off the bench) and improved his stats in every area while taking on more responsibility. Some games he'd carry the team for an entire half before everyone else woke up -- and he was the one making plays in crunch time. However, there are two positive spins to this. 1) Ambrose was a weak defender, so there could be improvement on that side of the ball 2) Gerardo Suero, a slashing, 3-point guard who is the all-time leading scorer at Ambrose's high school fits perfectly into the void Timmy left on offense.
Logan Aronhalt appears to be leader of the team - what's his game like?
Logan came to Albany with some highlight reels that showed impressive ups -- a number of foot surgeries later, however, that aspect of his game is limited. Hide the women and children though when he hits a shot streak -- it's sheer carnage for about 8 minutes of game time when he just cannot miss. He's got a very quick release and he isn't shy; he's probably the most likely person in the AE to drop 30 in a given night. However, if he's not hitting, he's a poor creator and was even a drag on the offense at times. If he cannot get into a rhythm, the Great Danes are in trouble.
JUCO transfer Gerardo Suero drew some Big East interest a few years ago out of high school. What have you heard about him and what are you expecting from him this year for Albany?
Jamar Wilson, who is canonized in Albany basketball lore and current Australian league stud, played basketball with Suero last year (Jamar went to the same high school as Timmy and Suero) and said he's instantly the best player in school history. First looks have indicated he's not your typical America East player: a 6'4 slashing guard who is cut. Albany fans are bit wary because we placed the world on the shoulders of Will Harris a few years ago when he transferred from Virginia to Albany... and the team bottomed out, but it's hard to keep the lid on the Suero buzz. If he commits on D and figures out how to play within the offense, he could be a POY candidate.
The Great Danes were 9-7 in the America East last season. What are their chances like this year in the conference?
About the same -- but with more upside. The Danes beat everyone worse than them and lost to everyone better last season. This year, our entire line-up gets a year older and the expectations are raised -- anything lower than 3rd would be a disappointment. One reason is we go from having no reliable bench to having the potential to go pretty deep. In particular, keep an eye out for Peter Hooley, a 6'4 freshman Aussie. He's a handcuff for our injury prone starting point guard and Black -- a deceptively talented guard who can shoot and has the handle to run the point, he's probably the future of Albany basketball.
Where do you see some opportunities for Albany to give Pitt trouble?
I've raved about what Suero and Logan can do (and one of them will have to make good on that), but the I think the real trouble could be if the 3rd or 4th options start up. Our point guard Mike Black is more a scorer than distributor, but he's been overlooked due to the Suero buzz. He was a 3rd team all conference performer and has twice been among the league's best in 3-pt shooting percentage. Also, sophomore forward Luke Devlin loves his spot up threes and back to back shots from him almost pushed Albany over Detroit last year.
How do you see Friday's game shaping out?
I want to believe. Suero, Aronhalt and Black have the potential to be a lethal three guard attack who can use the three point shot as a great neutralizer. I think we might scare you in the 1st half, but I'm afraid that under the big lights, Suero's eyes might get too big, too early and he'll get his points, but not within an offense. Birch and co. should be able to dine for free in the paint so I imagine that'll undermine the hope of an upset. Regardless, I say the Danes cover and put on a show for the faithful that travel west.